NEW ENGLAND — Steve LaFramboise had a nice little thing going inside his bowling alley. He had turned a small corner section of The B.A. restaurant into a bar and lounge area where bowlers could gather.
It turned into the place to go in New England for those wanting to socialize while enjoying an adult beverage.
But, LaFramboise said, it was never anything more than a hole in the wall. In fact, he acknowledges, it wasn’t even much of a bar.
“No matter how big or small we were, they still came,” he said, “but we weren’t able to accommodate them by any means. People said it was too bright, it wasn’t a bar atmosphere. So, we were starting to lose that umph.”
When Randy Schwartz approached LaFramboise about opening a new bar directly across the street from The B.A. in the old New England Lumber building he owned, LaFramboise jumped at the chance.
After countless hours of volunteer work, The B.A.R. opened in early December.
“It turned out way nicer than I ever expected,” said Schwartz, president of New England-based Edward H. Schwartz Construction, Inc. “They did way more work than I ever expected. The place has absolutely got some charm to it.”
Schwartz said he’s heard from many out-of-towners who feel The B.A.R. would fare well in a bigger city.
The B.A.R. — a simplistic take on the business and an obvious offshoot of the bowling alley’s name — kept much of the lumber building’s original wood interior.
It’s cozy — bright and filled with natural light during the day with a subdued “bar-like” feel at night. The floorplan is open. There’s a pool table, dart machines and, of course, a hunting video game in the corner. LaFramboise said several more updates are still coming.
Schwartz paid for an update to the furnace and plumbing, but was hesitant about LaFramboise and volunteers’ wishes of saving some parts of the hardwood interior, such as the floors.
The bar was built by local carpenter and handyman Gary Burkhardsmeier and John Kathrein put several hours into the bar, LaFramboise said. Kathrein now bartends there part-time.
The nail bins are still there but now have benches on top of them that serve as a place to sit or place a drink when shooting pool.
“I was probably the anchor dragging them down more than anything when they were working on it,” Schwartz said with a laugh. “I said, ‘You guys are nuts for trying to refinish this floor. If I were you, I’d clean it up … and go with it.’ They said, ‘No, we’re going to sand it up and refinish it.’
“Now they’ve got this beautiful floor in there. People pay big bucks to have that distressed wood look. They got it with an afternoon of work on a Sunday.”
A special aspect for the bar’s patrons has been “Branding Night,” which LaFramboise said he wants to hold once a month.
The event is a fundraiser for the New England Fire Department where ranchers pay $250 — with $200 going directly to the fire department — to bring in their brands and have them burnt onto a piece of wood that will hang throughout the bar. Several area ranchers have already done it.
“The Fire Department bartends that night and all the money goes to them,” LaFramboise said. “The first night we did it, we raised $4,000.”
The B.A.R. also hosts poker league every Monday and hopes to get involved in rotating darts and pool leagues with bars in neighboring cities.
LaFramboise also wants to host special events, such as the Nate Schatz Ironman Fundraiser that is scheduled for March 22 at The B.A. and The B.A.R.
The first of its kind, the competition will feature five-person teams bowling, throwing darts, shooting pool and singing karaoke with the proceeds going to Schatz, a New England native and son of former high school football coach Mike Schatz who was severely injured in a car accident last October.
“This is the town’s bar,” LaFramboise said. “We built it for the town and we give back to the town when we can.”
LaFramboise added that he’d like to see retirees — a sizeable segment of the town’s population — using The B.A.R. as a coffee and cards hangout in the morning and afternoon hours before the drinking crowd arrives.
“I would have no problem with that,” he said.
New England was once home to four bars — three of them on Main Street. Now, with an influx of population because of the nearby Bakken oil boom, LaFramboise feels the town and surrounding area has the population to handle the two bars it now has.
“Honestly, there’s enough business for two bars in this town,” he said.